I know I seem negative about child-raising sometimes. People who know me well know that's mostly just the way I talk, that in fact I tend to be optimistic and positive about life in general, but I also am the first to look for the flaw in a plan too.
Lately it's been difficult to be anything but negative about the boys. Everything, and I do mean everything, we do has become a huge struggle with them. Every step of the day can be a fight, and every consequence carried out only escalates.
Even the one thing I could count on is gone with Gabriel: getting out of the bath. It used to be that a cup of cold water would put a quick end to his defiance about getting out, but no longer. Tough-cookie that he is, his willingness for conflict is stronger than the normal human dislike of sudden cold.
It's really bringing Dave and me down. We try to find measures that are consistent and that get them to comply with a request quickly, without the painful ramp-up and without all the screaming and yelling, on both sides. We try to give them warnings, we try talking to them when it's not in the heat of the moment, we try separating them, we try compromising, we try not compromising at all and being absolute, immediately. But every conflict has its own parameters, and no one approach works in every situation. Often no approaches work at all and we find ourselves in a massive hysterical conflict that started with something as simple as putting shoes away. We can expect both being furious, overwhelmed, frustrated and miserable.
Today was no different. It started off badly even before anyone was dressed. The boys got into a fight, Gabriel whacked Julian and made him scream, Gabriel got something taken away, and then the trouble really started. I had to put him outside on the porch because of unbearable high-pitched screeching, which he does specifically to punish us (he doesn't have Julian's vocal strength but it's still awful), and then when he was outside he started ringing the doorbell incessantly. Spanking, back outside, then more doorbell-ringing and banging on the door. More spanking, more threats, more yelling, more scolding, more conflict, more incredible unpleasantness -- all at 7:30am before I've even woken up. When I let him back in, he rushed at me with a raised fist.
The whole day doesn't go like this of course, but even just 10 minutes of it is too much. I got Gabriel to recover from the morning conflict by talking to him in the kitchen (it wasn't easy, I had to get Katrina out). He says blood-chilling things like that he just wants to kill himself, that he hates being alive, that he'll find a machine gun and shoot himself. But if he's sitting talking to me telling me this, then with enough time I can talk to him and get him out of it. I tell him I know how he feels, that it's OK to be really angry, and ask him if there are other ways he can express that anger, and make suggestions. I tell him he can't hit Julian like he does, even when Julian makes him really really mad.
While I talked to him, I was making biscuits, where there's plenty of opportunity to divert the conversation to more pleasant things. "Oh, can you push that flour over here? thanks." Or, "Do you think that's 1/2 an inch high?" By the time the biscuits were baked, Gabriel only wanted to kill Julian, not himself, and he was on track for the moment. He liked the biscuits though there were sort of plain.
I had offered to take the boys to the BMX park today, but decided I had to take that away because they were being so awful. One place we had to go was the library, as Gabriel has his "September" book report due. I reminded the boys before we entered the library that they had to be good here, and was met with rude, "AAUUUGHHHH MOM -- I'm NOT LISTENING! WE **KNOW*** !!!"
But a miraculous thing happened. Not only were they really good in the library, they were both mostly much better for the rest of the day too. The immediate conclusion is "oh they must be bored!" and that could be part of it, but that's not the whole picture.
When it was time to get ready for dinner, I let Julian know ahead of time, and asked him to go wash his shirts, then get ready for dinner. He completely ignored me, but I was cooking so couldn't deal with it right away. I knew that following through with this simple request would likely be a huge fight again, so I got the camera to document it. Dear readers, I do not make this stuff up!
However, the presence of the camera drastically improved his reactions. He still ignored me, but he didn't launch right into his screaming rude objections. This was the best he's been in days reacting to my asking him to do something.
Why is this? Why do we seem to have such a harder time with them than other parents? Or maybe that's not true, and I'm just more negative or brought down by it?
I really do think that 70% of it is Gabriel. Julian is no innocent, but he's more impressionable and open-minded, and is egged on a lot by Gabriel. Without Gabriel, Julian's troubles decrease somewhat. Gabriel, on the other hand, is is own man and I think conflicts with him would exist pretty much as is, no matter who else is involved. His hyperactive pest mode is created by having others around, but his will for conflict is his own. His independence and toughness is extraordinary, and he's extraordinary in several ways, but as I've said many times, that does not make him easy to live with. In this particular phase of life, it's a real downer.
But we have a very very bright spot in all this. Without this bright spot, Dave and I both would be feeling like this whole parenting thing was a total bust, except for our delightful joyous darling daughter.
I don't know if Katrina is sensing that her brothers are sending us over the edge and she's milking it, but she's been the picture-perfect charming child lately. She's fun to talk to, she makes up characters and stories and is fun to listen to talk about it. She likes to be silly, and she likes to be serious, asking me about what I'm doing in the kitchen or anything else. She likes to sit and play with a calculator, finding sums with great joy "Look Mommy, 8 + 3 is ELEVEN!!!". She's been huggy and affectionate and saying "Daddy, I love you!" out of the blue. She's cooperative when we ask her to do something, and while we might have to remind her to put her shoes away a few times, she does it sweetly.
What a drastic difference. It's like a completely different universe. Scolding, warning, taking things away, spanking -- all completely unthinkable with her. She still has her tantrums from time to time, but they're toddler-type tantrums (and I hate those), they're not ones you can respond to the same way as defiant-kid conflicts.
Yesterday I took her to a birthday party for a pre-K classmate. It was nice chatting with other moms and being in a happy-child place for a while.
Katrina was very impressed with the pilot with the purple plane at the Watsonville airshow two weekends ago, a pilot named Vicky Benzer. She plays with this cardboard roll plane and makes it flip around the way Vicky did, and talks about Vicky the pilot. Quite the role model!
I'm filled with guilty relief at the weekend being over.